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Allegations Of Racism Emerge In Lawsuit By NYC Sweetgreen Employees

Fast casual restaurant chain Sweetgreen is being sued by ten employees who allege that racist incidents occurred at seven of its locations across New York City.

The lawsuit claims that co-workers and managers facilitated a hostile work environment by subjecting employees to the “N-word” daily, along with other racial slurs. In addition, the lawsuit alleges those managers gave preferential treatment to Hispanic/Latine workers and refused to hire or promote their qualified Black workers. The plaintiffs say managers leaned into racial stereotypes, often praising the Hispanic/Latine workers for their work ethic while calling the Black employees lazy.

The problems did not stop at the store level, as the lawsuit claims that complaints were carried to Sweetgreen’s HR department and were ignored for years. The suit additionally makes allegations that managers would sexually harass the female workers, touching them in inappropriate ways and making repeated sexual commentary.

Sweetgreen, known for serving salads, released a statement to CNBC, “At Sweetgreen, we are committed to diversity as well as a safe and inclusive workplace. We take these accusations seriously and do not tolerate any form of harassment, discrimination, or unsafe working conditions.”

Sweetgreen’s representative also said that the company could not make any further comments about the situation because it is a pending legal matter. 

When the lawsuit was first filed in March 2023, there were only two plaintiffs, but the updated complaint added eight more. They are seeking to receive monetary and punitive damages in addition to having the fees related to attorney costs covered. In New York City law, companies are to be held responsible for the behavior of their managing employees. The lawsuit, filed in the Bronx Supreme Court, names Donald Izquierdo and Edwin Ventura as defendants, along with Sweetgreen’s corporate division. It cites an incident where an employee made several sexualizing remarks near Izquierdo, including a comment about a female employee having “d***-sucking lips.”

As reported by New York Eater, an unnamed manager is accused of calling employees at the Gansevoort Street location “monkeys” regularly and failing to curb the use of the “N-word” by non-Black employees.

Avi Mermelstein, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, told New York Eater, “For too many Black employees, having to listen to managers and co-workers use racial slurs is just a part of their daily work environment.”

Mermelstein continued. “That’s both wrong and illegal. Being exposed to constant harassment creates a hostile and psychologically unsafe work environment, and companies simply must do better to protect their employees.”

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